Akron, Ohio. March 15, 1957. It seemed like an average day for cookware salesman Lawrence Joseph Bader and his wife Mary Lou. In a rather common occurrence, Lawrence had decided to skip out on work for the day, and go out on a fishing trip on Lake Erie instead. The following events afterwards would lead to a bizarre case that nobody truly knows the answer too.
He was an avid fisherman and had a favorite fishing spot there. Mary Lou, however, suggested he shouldn’t go, as there had been storm warnings which concerned her. He simply replied, “maybe I will and maybe I won’t,” kissed her goodbye, and left for the lake, taking a small suitcase with him.
When he arrived to rent his boat, the salesman was also concerned about the weather and even threw in a free extra life jacket when Lawrence insisted he was going out onto the lake anyways.
Bader rented a 14-foot boat and set out towards the fishing spot. At one point during his journey, he was approached by the Coast Guard who also suggested that he should not be out on the lake due to the weather warnings, but he persisted.
He never returned from his fishing trip.
The boat was found the next day at Perkins Beach, out of gas, with small amounts of damage, and items scattered haphazardly among the inside of the boat. Most importantly, however, was what was not there: Lawrence Joseph Bader. Also missing was the suitcase he had brought with him.
Searches were made on the lake, but nothing was found. This was not surprising to rescuers, though, as in such a large body of water, it’s easy for a corpse to go missing. It was concluded that there were no signs of foul play.
A Newcomer In Town
Meanwhile, four days after Bader’s disappearance, in Omaha, Nebraska, a newcomer to town appeared named John Johnson, also known as “Fritz.” His first big move was to sit on a flagpole for 30 days to raise money for polio, which attracted much attention and made him immensely popular in the community.
This led to him becoming a bartender, radio announcer, and TV sports director. He lived a lavish bachelor lifestyle, including driving a souped up hearse with pillows and a built-in bar which he called his “hunting vehicle.” In 1964, he was diagnosed with a tumor behind his left eye.
He lost the eye and began wearing an eyepatch, adding to his character. He eventually married.
You may be asking yourself what the relevance of this man is to Bader’s case. Well, on February 2, 1965, Fritz attended an archery tournament in Chicago. A man from Akron was also there, and despite the eyepatch and moustache, noticed that Fritz looked rather familiar.
In fact, he was certain he was looking at Lawrence Joseph Bader.
He immediately brought Bader’s niece to take a look at Fritz and see if she agreed. Upon seeing Fritz for the first time, she asked, “Pardon me, but aren’t you my uncle Larry Bader, who disappeared seven years ago?” Fritz simply laughed off the notion and assured them that he was not Bader.
However, when Bader’s brothers had Fritz’s fingerprints compared with Bader’s military records, it was a match. Lawrence Joseph Bader was alive, and John “Fritz” Johnson was in shock.
He insisted he did not remember his previous life.
Amnesia Or Escaping?
As a result of his reappearance, Mary Lou had to pay back the life insurance she had been granted upon the declaration of Lawrence’s death in 1960.
His second marriage was also considered null and void, as he was still legally married to Mary Lou.
His second wife decided to stand by him. Meanwhile, Mary Lou had been dating, and had recently become engaged.
Once her marriage to Bader had been reinstated, her new marriage became impossible, as she was Catholic and the Catholic Church does not allow its members to remarry once they have divorced.
So what really happened to Lawrence Joseph Bader?
There are two main theories to consider.
First, there is Bader’s claim of amnesia. A team of psychologists examined him for ten days, and concluded that he did, in fact, not remember his life before the boat crashed.
While unproven, it was theorized that his tumor may have caused the memory loss. Cases of amnesia such as this are rare but not unheard of. Is it possible he was making it up? And if so, why?
This leads into our second theory, which is that he faked his disappearance to start a new life.
Bader was $20,000 in debt to the IRS. Adjusted for inflation, that’s about $183,000. Not a paltry sum. It’s easy to see how it could have been tempting to run away from all that debt. It’s also possible he wanted to leave Mary Lou, considering his bachelor lifestyle and second marriage as Fritz.
The sad fact is we will likely never know what exactly happened to Bader. In 1966, only a year after he’d been found, he was diagnosed with liver cancer, and he passed away on September 16. With Bader’s death, any answers that may have remained are gone. It seems this case will remain a complete mystery.